Directed by Ron Howard, In The Heart of The Sea is based on Nathaniel Philbrick‘s 2000 novel of the same name, which tells the true of the sinking of the Essex, an 1820s New England whaling ship, which inspired the classic novel, Moby-Dick. The story of the crew – Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), First Mate Owen (Chris Hemsworth), Second Mate Matthew (Cillian Murphy), and cabin boy Thomas (Tom Holland) – their whaling voyage and the disaster that followed, is well-known. But that’s only half the story.
Beginning in 1850, the film opens with novelist Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) visiting an innkeeper, an older Thomas (Brendan Gleeson), seeking the true story of the Essex and the mythical monster that took it down. Telling the story for the first time, Thomas reveals his encounter of a mammoth-sized monster with a human sense of vengeance, and the harrowing aftermath that followed as the crew are pushed to their limits braving storms, starvation, and despair.
Ron Howard’s latest, In The Heart of The Sea is a thrilling voyage full of beautiful visuals, epic story-telling, and a brilliant cast. It may not live up to the likes of Apollo 13 or A Beautiful Mind, but you can tell that the man behind it was giving it his all, and that he had a story he wanted to tell.
But In The Heart of The Sea isn’t just about a whale and with the image of this glorious creature swishing its ginormous tale in the great open sea taking up the film’s promotional footage, it’s easy to forget what this story is really about. Yes, it’s an exciting adventure at times, but, for the most part, it’s a story about life, work, and survival.
All of the promotional footage makes you forget about the hardships of the whaling industry, putting the focus on a seemingly mythical chase between a man and a whale, instead of the reality of an animal set on a destructive course in fear of being slaughtered. Howard knows how to tell a story and connect with the audience, so he doesn’t forget to remind you of this. He doesn’t skip over how difficult and also immoral this job was, nor does he leave it to your imagination about how these animals were captured, killed, and turned into profit, and that’s what changed my ready-made opinions about this film quite early on.
And it wasn’t only tough days for the whales, either. These men had to go whaling to make a living, and it was a horribly gruesome affair, one that is thankfully no longer legal. Sure, I was eager to see Chris Hemsworth get his revenge and for this beautiful creature to splash it all back in his face, but In The Heart of The Sea is more about the true story that inspired the classic novel than about a fictitious creature with human intentions. It is about “nature fighting back” in a way, but it’s also about the humanity behind it all.
The framing device used to do this sees the film open with the author of Moby-Dick seeking the true story, which works incredibly well. As the story progresses, you can see how difficult it is for Thomas to admit both defeat and the horrors which he encountered, which is where the strength of the story comes in. There are a few shocking revelations, and also a couple of scenes that are on the verge of being emotional (although no tears were shed by the end), but these human struggles are balanced with exciting adventure and action to make an entertaining, but also very tense at times, journey seen from both sides.
But In The Heart of The Sea is about two things: the first being the story, the second being about the use of special effects and cinematography, which Howard really want to experiment with and learn from with this film. Even though there isn’t a single real whale used during filming, you wouldn’t have guessed. The effects are outstanding, enhancing many of the action scenes, which are backdropped with beautiful locations.
And the performances are spot-on, too. It’s always great to see Chris Hemsworth in a lead role outside of the Marvel universe, and he certainly takes charge here. Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, and Tom Holland, work brilliantly together alongside him, as well, with each of them showing a lot of dedication to their roles, losing a drastic amount of weight for some of the final scenes. And not forgetting the ‘present day’ cast, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson, and Michelle Fairley, are great, too.